Institute for Disaster Mental Health to host annual conference

The Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz will host “Preparing for the Health and Mental Health Consequences of Climate Change,” in Lecture Center 100 on April 17. The conference is the only one of its kind in New York State that will bring together emergency management, health and mental health personnel who all play a role in preparing for and responding to climate-related disasters.

“Recent extreme weather events in New York State make it clear that climate change’s effects are not only being felt in developing nations, but in our own region, with dire physical, psychological, and economic consequences we must confront now,” said Dr. James Halpern, director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health.

Congressman Chris Gibson (NY-19), who will present opening remarks at the event, agreed. He said, “During my time in Congress, I have witnessed Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, Hurricane Sandy, and various blizzards wreak havoc across our region, wiping out roads and bridges and destroying homes, businesses, and farms. I know that storms like these cause unimaginable stress and anguish in our communities, from flood victims to first responders. I am grateful to the IDMH for its efforts to help us prepare for the health and mental health impacts of changing weather patterns and I look forward to participating in this important conference.”

Halpern noted that the psychological nature of those consequences is particularly difficult to address.

“While acute disasters like hurricanes are damaging and distressing for survivors, eventually they’re clearly over so people can begin to feel safe again and start to recover from their losses,” he said. “In the case of climate change, we’re facing a chronic threat where losses are likely to increase over time and we have little control over our safety – or over the long-term impact on our children. That combination of helplessness and anxiety about the future is challenging to address and merits more attention in the disaster field.”

To that end, conference keynote presenters will explore innovative and practical approaches to addressing diverse community-based problems. They include:

  • Mental Health Consequences of Climate Change – Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Climate Change, Communication and Our Inconvenient Minds – Andrew Revkin, columnist, New York Times
  • The Health Consequences of a Changing Climate – George Luber, associate director for climate change in the Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects at the National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Envisioning a Feasible, Scalable, Effective, and Engaging Mental Health Post-Disaster Response – Josef Ruzek, director, Dissemination and Training Division, National Center for PTSD

Afternoon workshops, which will be tailored to different professional groups, will provide specific intervention skills, including a focus on using social media to increase engagement in climate change mitigation efforts and to deliver mental health assistance.

“The only way to confront the consequences of the looming crisis is through innovative and thoughtful group planning and preparedness,” said Halpern. “This conference is intended to jump-start this process by giving emergency services responders, health and mental health professionals, and students preparing to enter these fields understanding of how to recognize and mitigate this upcoming health, public health, and mental health crisis.”

The registration fee, which includes parking, boxed lunch and beverages, as well as educational materials is $60. On-site registration is $75. The registration fee for SUNY New Paltz faculty, staff and students is $25 and the fee for other non-New Paltz students is $25.

For a full presenter line-up and more information about registering, visit